Year of Green Action

Defra are running a promotion to try and get everyone to take action for the environment, so I thought I would try and see how well it worked. ( https://deframedia.blog.gov.uk/2019/02/01/environment-secretary-launches-year-of-green-action/  )

The biggest limit to how well native wildflowers in England are conserved is Natural England having too little money to operate in the manner that would enable conserving all English ancient/heritage habitats and the full remaining genetic variation within each wildflower species. If we are to be successful in delivering the ambitious 25-year Environment Plan Natural England must have a greater budget or the plan cannot be delivered as written. So the best way I can make an impact into improving the environment is to ask for Natural England to have a larger Budget so they can be more effective. I emailed my usual evidenced-backed comments and the end result is reproduced below, but first the executive summary…

Summary.

The politician responsible for Natural England’s funding is the MP who holds the office Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs*.

Natural England “…receives a budget to carry out its duties and responsibilities in line with what is affordable and the Government’s priorities for the natural environment.” In 2009/10 its budget was approx. £250 million** and in 2019 its budget will be approx. £100 million***

Conclusion: The work of Natural England is only 2/5 as important to the present government than it was to the government in 2009/10.

It is frustrating, to put it mildly, for a government to state it is concerned about biodiversity loss when the evidence shows it is less willing to fund biodiversity protection now than it was 10 years ago.

————-

*it may not necessarily be the present MP as sometimes actions by prior holders affect current budgets.

** https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/247387/1131.pdf

*** could well be smaller than this figure by now according to this  https://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/environment-food-rural-affairs/Estimates/2018-19-Main-Estimate-Memorandum-for-Select-Committee.pdf  [and I’m not taking into account the effect of inflation].

—————

The whole sequence of Tweets and emails relating to the pledge Tweet was as follows:-

My Tweet 22 April

I’m going to ask Defra UK to fund a national survey, and keep an accurate register, of England’s Ancient Grasslands & to ask Defra UK to reinstate @NaturalEngland ‘s funding to >2010 levels so that they can effectively monitor all of our heritage habitats. #YearOfGreenAction

In response to a @DefraUK tweet of the same day

We’re calling on all our followers to make a pledge for nature this #EarthDay! What will yours be? Make your pledge and support the #YearOfGreenAction now: https://www.yearofgreenaction.org/make-a-pledge

 

My Email Sent 24 April

Hello

You were encouraging people to make a pledge for nature on Twitter so I did. As part of that pledge I said I would ask Defra UK if Natural England’s budget could be returned to greater than 2010 levels so that Natural England could once again effectively monitor England’s heritage habitats.

As background to this, the previous Natural England Chairman said they didn’t have enough money to carry out their statutory duties http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/environment-food-and-rural-affairs-committee/chair-of-natural-england/oral/92782.html  , this article pointed out that all SSSI’s were not being visited https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2018/09/07/half-england-sssi-sites-not-monitored/  , this letter from the UK Statistics Authority questions Natural England/Defra’s differing priority habitat extent statistics https://www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/correspondence/response-to-england-biodiversity-indicators-statistics/   and this newspaper report summarises the financial situation https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/29/agency-protecting-english-environment-reaches-crisis-point  .

I can’t find any government commissioned evidence that states the cuts to the Natural England budget have had a positive or even neutral effect on our heritage habitats.

I can see that allocation of funding is a political decision i.e. a matter of political priorities, but as there is money available to carry out the increased administrative procedures that arises from the EU Exit https://www.gov.uk/government/news/more-than-2-billion-brexit-preparation-funding-awarded-to-departments-for-a-successful-eu-exit  and the Prime Minister has said Austerity is over https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-politics-45733098/theresa-may-people-need-to-know-austerity-is-over  then I as far as I can see, funding for Natural England can be reinstated.

Can you inform me please who is the politician responsible for Natural England’s funding, so I can contact them directly about increasing the budget to Natural England?

 

Received from Defra 17 May

Thank you for your email of 24 April about Natural England’s budget. I have been asked to reply.

Defra and Natural England have responded to the need to balance public spending and to manage resources rigorously. Natural England has prioritised and maintained outcomes through transforming the way it does business and strategically deploying its resources to where they will have the greatest impact.

Natural England, like many other bodies, has been developing alternative income streams, for example through charging for services. This has already helped to offset reductions in grant funding. Defra will be considering further funding options, as well as exploring new investment mechanisms for green finance.

Regarding the monitoring of habitats, positive steps have been made. For example, Natural England is developing an approach to the monitoring of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) which will make better use of new technologies, such as remote sensing, and greater partnership involvement. These are intended to improve efficiency of SSSI monitoring in view of competing priorities.

Finally, to answer your other question, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has overall ministerial oversight for Natural England.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact Defra about Natural England.

 

My Email Sent 3rd June

Thank you very much for your reply which I read with great interest. I have written to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs regarding Natural England’s funding (I rather doubt there will be a reply, but am always hopeful, and at least I have responded to the Defra initiative in a positive manner).

With regard to your sentence that starts “Natural England has prioritised and maintained outcomes…” my understanding was that it hadn’t maintained outcomes and that was what the previous chairman had stated as he was leaving. Can you please inform me which statistics/metrics you are using to support that statement?

 

Received from Defra 18 June

Thank you for your further email of 3 June about Natural England’s performance.

Natural England’s Annual Report for 2018/19 is currently being finalised for publication and will soon be available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/natural-england. This will provide a summary of the organisation’s performance in the past year to answer your question.

 

My Email Sent 26 June

Thank you for your reply

I will read the report with interest

 

Email to Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My Email Sent June 1st

Dear Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs,

Defra were encouraging people to make a ‘pledge for nature’ on Twitter so I did. As part of that pledge I said I would ask Defra UK if Natural England’s budget could be returned to greater than 2010 levels so that Natural England could once again effectively monitor England’s heritage habitats. I wrote to Defra and they said you were the person responsible for setting budget levels so I am writing to ask if you would do this and could you please send me a timetable for when this will occur so that I can monitor it.

As background to this question/issue, the previous Natural England Chairman said they didn’t have enough money to carry out their statutory duties http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/environment-food-and-rural-affairs-committee/chair-of-natural-england/oral/92782.html   , this article pointed out that all SSSI’s were not being visited https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2018/09/07/half-england-sssi-sites-not-monitored/   , this letter from the UK Statistics Authority questions Natural England/Defra’s differing priority habitat extent statistics https://www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/correspondence/response-to-england-biodiversity-indicators-statistics/    and this newspaper report summarises the financial situation https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/29/agency-protecting-english-environment-reaches-crisis-point   .

I can’t find any government commissioned evidence that states the cuts to the Natural England budget have had a positive or even neutral effect on our heritage habitats.

I can see that allocation of funding is a political decision i.e. a matter of political priorities, but as there is money available to carry out the increased administrative procedures that arises from the EU Exit https://www.gov.uk/government/news/more-than-2-billion-brexit-preparation-funding-awarded-to-departments-for-a-successful-eu-exit   and the Prime Minister has said Austerity is over https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-politics-45733098/theresa-may-people-need-to-know-austerity-is-over  then I as far as I can see, funding for Natural England can be reinstated.

The second part of my pledge for nature is to ask Defra to fund a national survey, and keep an accurate register, of England’s Ancient Grasslands and as I assume you have the authority to initiate that, then I am asking you to undertake that as well please.

As background to the request you will be aware that ancient grasslands can be as old as medieval churches and yet they have no protection in law unless they have been designated a SSSI: Phase one and Phase 2a of HS2 will destroy 1% of England’s Lowland Meadow (according to HS2’s figures https://theintermingledpot.wordpress.com/2018/09/13/keeping-count/  ) and Lowland Meadow is classed by Natural England as mainly ancient grassland (page 4 of this .pdf download http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/file/6496007  ). Ancient Grasslands are integral to the ability of the Government’s new 25-year environmental plan to meet the target for conserving the full range of genetic variation within species and yet Natural England and Defra still do not know where they all exist or their current condition in England.

I look forward to hearing your response on these two matters prompted by a Defra initiative

 

Received from Defra 17 July 2019

Thank you for your email of 1 June to the Secretary of State about Natural England funding and ancient grassland. I have been asked to reply and apologise for the delay.

Natural England has a key role to play in protecting and enhancing the natural environment in England and in delivering the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan.

Like all other Defra sponsored bodies, it receives a budget to carry out its duties and responsibilities in line with what is affordable and the Government’s priorities for the natural environment. Natural England receives income from a diverse range of sources, although the vast majority of its work is funded from core Grant in Aid, which has seen some cuts. However, in order to offset this loss, Natural England is looking to expand its income further through fees and charges, commercial activities and external grant funding whilst also exploring new investment mechanisms for green finance.

Natural England has responded to the need to balance public spending and to deploy resources to best effect. This is reflected in its ‘Conservation 21’ strategy, which sets out how it will work with local area-based partners to deliver its core purpose.

Natural England’s interim Chief Executive is working closely with its board and Defra to agree its priorities in light of the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan and its statutory duties as stated in the Natural Environmental and Rural Communities Act 2006.

 

My Email Sent 18 June

Thank you very much for replying – I don’t envy you your task in having to explain the decisions of politicians.

“…it receives a budget to carry out its duties and responsibilities in line with what is affordable and the Government’s priorities for the natural environment.” I think is nicely put, in that it states clearly what is happening, that politicians are aware of that, and of the subsequent consequences of the change of funding; I appreciate that. I will infer that the priorities of the present government towards our cultural heritage are 2/5 what they were to the government in 2010 given the change in funding (I should really work out the change relating to inflation too).

I will be investigating how Natural England receives income from other sources and how this affects their work and how this affects the number of prosecutions they undertake. I rather suspect it is almost impossible to get a criminal conviction for damaging our natural heritage because landowners are rich enough to pay fines or for ‘emergency advice’ from Natural England, whereas it is very easy to get a criminal conviction for shoplifting especially if you are poor.

Very best of luck in the civil service with surviving the immediate-future changes in politicians.

Please keep trying to do the right thing.

 

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